Tag Archives: quotation

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Swimming with The Second Law of Thermodynamics

This is a one subject site, open water swimming.

Everything on the site relates to open water swimming. But since open water swimming is part of my life, sometimes other parts of my life or some of my interests get pulled in. They may look tangential but it’s because I’m trying to contextualize my swimming life. Like all open water swimmers, you can’t extract open water swimming from our lives and somehow find the real person.

So I occasionally write about Ireland and Irish culture or humour, because it’s where I (mostly) swim. I write about pool swimming occasionally, because it’s where I swim half of the year. (But there are a multitude of better pool swimmers than me, so when I write about it, it’s from an average pool swimmer’s point of view).

I write about the sea, the weather, my dogs who accompany me to the coast, the books or media that inform or help my swimming. I write about my swimming friends, real life and online (I don’t distinguish, I don’t have to have met someone to consider them a friend) from whom I learn.

I was getting some aches as the training volume was building up so I had another massage at the end of the week. I was developing a tightness in the centre (belly) of my left deltoid (shoulder muscle) and a really deep and sore ache in my right trapezoid (upper centre back). I also has a serious pain above my left glute (butt cheek) that only expressed itself once a swim went over three hours, (so this wasn’t a problem much). The massage hurt like hell. The delt eased out completely, I won’t know about the glute until the next long swim. The trap was still really sore afterwards and I hoped it would ease out over the next 24 hours. To aid that I looked forward to the weekly (at this time of the year) cold water swim.

This is my home. Guillamene Cove, on Saturday, from side to side, Click to mucho embiggen

It was a horrible morning. Cold all week, it was a little bit warmer on Saturday while rest of Europe was being hammered on the anvil of an extreme cold snap, with even the sea-shore freezing in Britain. But the air temperature leaving the house was about 8 degrees Celsius. This is the advantage of Irish weather, it’s mild in average, no great summers, no terrible winters. But the sea water temperature was down to 6° Celsius (43°f). It was overcast, Force Three onshore wind and with about a two metre swell, but I didn’t care. Just let me out there.

According to Polar Bear Joe at the Guillamene, it was 41°f the previous day (5°C) with colder air, coldest water temperature of this winter so far.

The entry was fine, and the next 14 minutes were euphoric. That word actually came to me while I was swimming. Isn’t that part of the reason we swim, that feeling? I’ve been trying to explain that feeling for two years now. During the swim, all my existential worries evaporated and I was at peace for the first time in a week. At the fifteenth minute I noticed the cold pain beginning in fingertips and feet. Given conditions were a bit rough and I would need to navigate the rougher water returning over the Comolene reefs, I turned back before I reached the pier. I was in toward shore closer than my normal outside deeper returning track, and it was really rough passing beneath the last house on the cliff.

The coast road from the Guilllamene facing Tramore, running above the normal swim route

I was back to the steps at 41 minutes, stumbled upwards on my numb feet to my fake Crocs (thanks Nuala) high on the steps. Someone started talked to me as I fumbled to get my goggles, cap and earplugs off. All I heard was a voice. With the ear plugs off and as my eyes cleared, it was someone with an American accent standing right beside, I mean right beside me, asking me how far I’d gone. As I tried to mumble a frozen-jaw response I also tried to make my way quickly to my box to start getting changed as soon as possible.

41 minutes at six degrees Celsius is the furthest I’ve gone. I knew what was coming with the Afterdrop. It would tough. I needed to optimise getting dressed as soon as possible.

As I got changed, with some difficulty, trying to get covered as my core temperature was dropping due to the inward flow of cold blood, conversation continued about cold water swimming as I struggled to answer and make sense, not easy when in this state.

I was in that hazy post cold swim state of mild hypothermia, where I’m pretty certain that I am functioning fully and that I can remember everything clearly, but later realise it’s not necessarily the case.

Later I wonder to myself. 41 minutes at 41 minutes at six degrees Celsius doesn’t seem like that much to me. I know, as I always do, that I could have gone further, why didn’t I swim for a nice round 45 minutes? But I realise that in these circumstances, when I am by myself, I let my body and a sub-conscious experience decide my swim times. With doing 41 minutes in 6° Celsius, I now, finally, have no doubt that should we get a 5° degree temperature this winter, the ice-mile is well within my capability. But for now, I can’t actually prove that officially.

Swimming, like everything else, is governed by entropy, which always increases, therefore order (or you could term it information in certain circumstances) is always reducing. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Eventually the dead hand of the Second Law will hold sway over all, as scientist and author Stephen Baxter once wrote, it’s the ultimate scientific explanation of the universe’s evolution, which is governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a closed system, entropy increases, and the universe is a closed system. Within the smaller system of the earth, the human body is a closed system. It loses heat unless energy is input back into the system to offset loss. As cold water swimmers, we understand experientially the Second Law better than most. Hypothermia will always get you, regardless of experience. If the water temperature is below normal core temperature, no matter how high otherwise, it just will take a longer time. Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics we get cold. So we need heat and food, two forms of energy, since mass and energy are the same thing. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is always there, always swimming with you, always waiting for you.

I have a deep integral sense of the numinous wonder of the world and the universe, that for me, expresses itself most deeply and is felt most strongly in open water swimming, in immersing myself in the green waters. The world is extraordinary, the sea is transforming, my friends are a value beyond price.  But that’s just my own world view.


Homer understood;

“For wreaking havoc on a strong man, even the very strongest, there is nothing so dire as the sea.”

But Lucretius was wrong:

“Lovely it is, when the winds are churning up the waves on the great sea, to gaze out from the land on the great efforts of someone else”.

Joseph Conrad saw it:

“The sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to  touch its irresponsible consciousness of power”.

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

“To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

Newtown Cove Sand - Click for detail

About a spoonful of sand taken today from Newtown Cove pier. The small beach is only larger stones, so this sand was water-borne to arrive on the pier. The largest grains are only about 5mm across.  Look at it at maximum size. Shells, cartilage, glass and maybe bone fragments, wood and rock fragments, rock of different types and colours, and surely some foraminifera fossils. Slightly better picture below. Next time you’re by the sea, have a look. Different locations have slightly or greatly different  types of sand.

Click for closeup


Any1 can give up, it’s easiest thing in world 2 do. 2 hold it 2gether when every1 else would understand if U fell apart, that’s strength.” – Diana Nyad

Excuse the text speak, that’s how the original was written just recently. This one, obviously, given my own swim, I find particularly striking.

Diana Nyad, for those who don’t know is one of the two women (along with Susie Maroney) who have swum the furthest in the world. American Diana Nyad was I think 100 miles while Aussie Susie Maroney  was 104 miles.

A Serious House on Serious Earth

I was thinking of the ladies coming back across the Channel on the boat after their swim.
Many things cause me to think of the Channel now. I remember coming south from St. Margaret’s bay after completing our double relay in 2008, and though it was dark, the Channel was flaring like phosphorus in my mind.

We had a discussion about the possibilities and our own thoughts. Nuala and The Unnamed Swimmer both said immediately they’d never consider it. Nuala remarked how having seen it close up she could no longer imagine doing a solo or even understand how anyone would consider it.

Amy said maybe, but in the future, not soon. I mused, said I didn’t know. But I think I did. I think Danny did as well. We both signed up within weeks. I’m done and Danny goes next week with Rob.
I think of Jim Swift saying he thought Channel swimming was over-rated.

Maybe because of the 100% success rate of the Sandycove swimmers, we’d become a bit complacent. I never thought I’d be a sacrificial consignment to the extremities of the Channel.

Eddie mentioned to me today the impossibility of comparing any two Channel swims, something he had also learned. The Channel looms large in my mind. I’ve been there twice and both were difficult and both times I succeeded. I’m reminded of Philip Larkin’s words from “Church-Going” and it seems condign for an atheist to misappropriate them .

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.

The Old Gent From Providence make a second inevitable appearance in the quotations

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” – H.P. Lovecraft

Cthulhu fhtagn.

But given it’s tenor, I’ll balance it with a bit of Arthur Clarke.

“How inappropriate to call this planet ‘Earth’ when it is clearly ‘Ocean’.”

Quotes? Just because.

An Snámh Mór Fada

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn’t mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank — but that’s not the same thing.”
— Joseph Conrad (The Secret Sharer and other stories)

The Newtown & Guillamenes Swimming Club runs the Snámh Fada (long swim) every August. In reality it just runs from the Guillamenes to the pier, less than 20 minutes. No point in doing what is for me a small part of a single training swim.

Occasionally, the Club, or others, will run the Snámh Mór, which has always been a swim back across the bay from a boat drop at Brownstown Head, ending at the Guillamenes. This is about 4500 metres, usually a dropping a few hundred metres off the Head. Racing this, I’m slightly over an hour.

So I figure a Tramore Bay swim, over and back, (10K if you go rock to rock), should be called the Snámh Mór Fada, the Big Long Swim.

Today’s conditions were perfect for a Snámh Mór Fada. No wind, almost glassy conditions, no swell, overcast with an odd brief glimpse of the sun, water probably around 13.5 C.

No boat cover, solo, a long way from land, knowing there are fishing boats out and towing a feed bottle behind me, luminous orange swim cap.

Dumber than Witless Jack MacDumb, Chief Idiot of the Stupid Clan.

I can’t condone or recommend this in any way to anyone. In fact I advise against it in the strongest terms.

But we’re adults. We make our own decisions about our lives, where we can, in a world that circumscribes us. My life is my own. I own it entirely. I subscribe to an existentialist view of life. I did not consider it too risky, having weighed the pros and cons and using my experience and open water judgement. That’s part of what this whole adventure and web page is about, a journey into experiences.

I turned a few hundred metres from the Head. About five minutes later the Coast Guard helicopter went over! This is one of my worries, that someone on the cliffs seeing me head out and not come back will panic and call the Coast Guard or RNLI Inshore Rescue, both of whom are based only a few minutes flight away.

The helicopter seemed a bit high though, and I was obviously swimming, not sinking. Within a minute or so it had turned though, coming back in a bit lower. “Oh, oh”, I though, local radio and notoriety here I come. Luckily though it went back to base. I got back in 2 hours 30 minutes on the dot, very surprisingly (to me) taking the same time each way. I had expected a slightly longer return time due to tidal currents.

There were some interesting resonances of the Channel. A very large amount of plankton in the water further out and the whole way across, catching the light, was very similar to the Channel, more than I have seen anywhere else I’ve swam in Ireland.
And the sensation, particularly when heading towards Brownstown head, of not making any progress. After thirty minutes outward swimming, it seemed the Guillamenes was still seemingly close and Brownstown Head was no closer, a mini replica of the Cap which seems to get no closer at all for two or three hours.

Good day.

“No man…”

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”


* I’m obviously not responsible for the inherent misogyny of two and a half thousand years ago…